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LOVE STORY – Francis Lai


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Howard Minsky and Paramount Studios saw opportunity when he read Erich Segal’s “Love Story” script and secured the film rights. They also asked him to publish a novel in advance for the film so as to cultivate public interest. This proved to be a masterstroke, as the Valentine’s Day publication lead to a national best seller. Arthur Hiller was hired to direct and he brought in a fine cast, which included Ryan O’Neal (Oliver Bartlet IV), Ali McGraw (Jenny Cavalleri), Ray Milland (Oliver Barrett III), Katherine Balfour (Mrs. Barrett), John Marley (Phil Cavalleri) and Tommy Lee Jones (Hank Simpson) in his film debut.

Love Story is one of the greatest romantic tragedies in American film, being rated #9 by the American Film Institute. For the story, Oliver Barrett IV is a scion of the wealthy Barrett family. He is securing his law degree at Harvard where he happens to meet a Jennifer Cavilleri, a working class girl studying music at Radcliffe College. Well, it is love at first sight, and despite their opposite class backgrounds it is a love they cannot deny or ignore. When he learns of her plans to study in Paris, he cannot bear the separation, and so proposes. Jenny is caught of guard, but accepts, even though it will interfere with her musical studies. Jenny’s introduction to Oliver’s family goes poorly and his father threatens to disinherit him if he chooses to marry below his class. This ruptures their relationship as Oliver does marry Jenny and is disowned. Jenny’s makes an attempt to reconcile the Barrett men, but to no avail. Oliver and Jenny move on and slowly build a happy life together. But they cannot conceive so they see a physician who discovers that Jenny has a terminal illness. The news is devastating as is her slow and steady decline. Through it all we see the power of love on full display, a love that both affirms and inspires. Jenny’s famous line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” became iconic in the American lexicon. The film was a tremendous commercial success and received critical acclaim, securing seven Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Score, winning one for Best Film Score.

Francis Lai’s score for A Man and a Woman caught director Hiller’s ear and so secured him the assignment. Yet because Lai spoke no English, and Hiller spoke no French, Hiller sent a long letter to Lai with very explicit instructions as to what kind of music he wanted, and where he wanted the music spotted. This approach was highly unusual, however Lai took the hand he was dealt and made the best of it. He succeeded in penning a love theme for the ages, which was purposely emoted by piano, Jenny’s instrument at music school. Lai’s believed that the piano is what gives color and emotion to their story, their inspiring love, and her tragic demise. Lai also understood that is was also necessary to give the film a contemporaneous 1970s sound so as to connect to the modern audience. Lastly he realized that it was important to contrast the musical sensibilities, which existed between Oliver (the rock vibe of the Beatles) and Jenny (the note rich melodies of Mozart.)

The CD is not sequenced to the film, so I reorder the cues to support the film’s narrative flow. “Theme from Love Story” opens the film with a view of a skating rink as the opening credits roll. A commentary by Oliver begins as the camera pans in and he pines for the loss of Jenny. Lai offers the Love Theme in three parts; first by piano, then by guitar and then with guitar and orchestra. In all three of these statements only the opening A Phrase of the theme is offered. In the film, this piece is truncated with only the first of the three statements being used. It is clear to me that Lai perfectly captured the emotional core of this film. “Snow Frolic” reveals Oliver frolicking in the snow, making snow angels and just celebrating their love. Lai supports the scene simply with a wordless female vocal and ta gentle rock rhythm. It is a perfect matching of music and film.

In “Concerto No.3 in D – Allegro” Jenny plays the Bach harpsichord concerto as Oliver watches. It is a well-known delightful piece, which abounds with an incredible lightness of being. It fits the scene wonderfully! “Search for Jenny” reveals Oliver and Jenny fighting over his adamant refusal to reconcile with his father. Oliver loses his temper and angrily yells for her to get out of life, which causes her to flee. He is remorseful and soon races out to find her. Lai offers a memorable passage where he combines the Love Theme on harpsichord (for Jenny’s love of Mozart), and a rock rhythm (for Oliver’s love of the Beatles) as Oliver (O’Neal) searches the whole of Cambridge to find her. This passage is brilliant and offers a wonderful juxtaposition. “The Christmas Trees” reveals Oliver picking up their first Christmas tree a score highlight of uncommon beauty where Lai draws inspiration form the “Silent Night” Christmas carol, which he joins with a wondrous lyricism. His heart-warming music fully captures this special moment.

“Bozo Barrett” was excised from the film, intended to support a discussion between Jenny and Oliver over a future son as they drive to their new life in New York City. It features the Love Theme on piano, which suddenly transitions to a hip harpsichord, and then to a solemn rendering by organ. Lai then deconstructs the theme for a funky closing statement. “Skating In Central Park” reveals Jenny watching from the stands as Oliver skates in central Park. Lai reprises his melody from “Snow Frolic”, now rendered as a graceful and elegant waltz. The music offers a perfect sensibility as Oliver glides effortless across the ice. “Piano Sonata No.12 In F Major – Allegro” supports a sad scene as Jenny asks to be taken to the hospital. Our lovers walk hand in hand across a snow covered Central Park. Mozart’s piece captures the moment perfectly.

“I Love You, Phil” was excised from the film. It offers a spritely pop carried tune by wordless female voice, which has the funk of pairing an electric guitar, and harpsichord. “The Long Walk Home” reveals Oliver walking to the skating rink in Central Park, distraught and devastated from Jenny’s death. The Love Theme struggles to break free from an electronica sustain. As we return to the opening scene of the film in “Theme From Love Story – Finale” the Love Theme bring us to closure as the End Credits run. We now bear tearful witness for the first time to a sublime full statement in all its sumptuous glory with both its A and B Phrases being voiced. This is one of the most emotional and stirring endings in film score art.

Lai only offers 30 minutes of music, with just 25 being used in the film. Yet he was able to perfectly capture the film’s emotional core with a melody of uncommon beauty, which earns him immortality. His music brought theses lovers to life and offered testimony to their love. The juxtaposition of her classical sensibilities of Mozart and Bach with his more modern rock vibe was spot on. While I believe the Oscar that year should have rightfully gone to Jerry Goldsmith for his brilliant Patton score, I can understand how this simple, yet powerfully evocative love theme won the hearts of the Academy. I highly recommend this score as an essential part of you collection.

I have embedded a YouTube link for those of you unfamiliar with this timeless melody to its song version, whose lyrics I believe raise its beauty to the sublime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_FklOwMyoE

Buy the Love Story soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Theme from Love Story (3:20)
  • Snow Frolic (2:57)
  • Piano Sonata No.12 in F, K332: 1. Allegro (written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) (2:18)
  • I Love You, Phil (2:04)
  • The Christmas Trees (2:48)
  • Search for Jenny (3:04)
  • Bozo Barrett (2:43)
  • Skating in Central Park (3:03)
  • The Long Walk Home (1:30)
  • Concerto No.3 in D: Allegro (written by Johann Sebastian Bach) (2:35)
  • Theme from Love Story (Finale) (3:53)

Running Time: 30 minutes 09 seconds

MCA Records MCAMLCD-19157 (1970/2000)

Music composed and conducted by Francis Lai. Orchestrations by Francis Lai. Featured musical soloist George Pludermacher. Score produced by Francis Lai. Album produced by Tom Mack.

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